WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Democrat Joe Biden as president-elect on Tuesday, saying the Electoral College “has spoken.”
The Republican leader's statement, delivered in a speech on the Senate floor, ends weeks of silence over President Donald Trump's defeat. It came a day after electors met and officially affirmed Biden's election win.
“I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said.
“Many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result,” he said. "But our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The Electoral College has spoken.”
McConnell called Biden someone “who has devoted himself to public service for many years.” He also congratulated Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, saying “all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president-elect for the very first time.”
Biden told reporters that he called McConnell on Tuesday to thank him for the remarks. As Biden departed Wilmington, Del., to campaign for Democrats in the Georgia runoff elections for Senate, he said they had a “good conversation.”
"We agreed to get together sooner than later,” Biden said.
The Senate leader's speech followed a groundswell of leading Republicans who have now said that Biden is the winner of the presidential election, essentially abandoning Trump's assault on the outcome after the Electoral College on Monday confirmed Biden's victory.
McConnell prefaced his remarks with sweeping praise for what he characterized as Trump’s “endless” accomplishments during four years in office. He said Trump delivered on a promise to “shake up Washington,” and cited the president's nomination and Senate confirmation of three Supreme Court justices, among other accomplishments. The leader said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “deserve our thanks.”
For his part, Trump continued to push his baseless claims of “voter fraud” in a new tweet on Tuesday.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said now that McConnell has spoken, “enough is enough.”
Trump should “end his term with a modicum of grace and dignity,” Schumer said.
With states having affirmed the election results, the Republicans faced a pivotal choice — to declare Biden the president-elect, as the tally showed, or keep standing silently by as Trump waged a potentially damaging campaign to overturn the election.
As the Electoral College voted on Monday, giving Biden a clear majority, GOP senators began speaking up.
“At some point you have to face the music,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the NO. 2 GOP leader. “Once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on.”
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the inaugural committee, said the panel will now “deal with Vice President Biden as the president-elect.” Just last week, the Republicans on the inauguration committee had declined to publicly do so.
The turnaround comes nearly six weeks after Election Day. Many Republicans rode out the time in silence, enabling Trump to wage an unprecedented challenge to the nation’s cherished system of voting.
Some GOP lawmakers have vowed to carry the fight to Jan. 6 when Congress votes to accept or reject the Electoral College results. Others have said Trump's legal battles should continue toward resolution by inauguration day, Jan. 20.
“It’s a very, very narrow path for the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a top Trump ally. “But having said that, I think we’ll let those legal challenges play out.”
Historians and election officials have warned that Trump's unfounded claims of voter fraud threaten to erode Americans' faith in the election system, and that lawmakers have a responsibility under the oath of office to defend the Constitution.
“The campaign to overturn the outcome is a dangerous thing,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton.
“This is a Republican operation, not a presidential operation,” Zelizer said. “Without their silence, he couldn’t do what he is doing.”
Trump is trying to throw out the ballots of thousands of Americans, particularly those who voted by mail, in dozens of lawsuits that have mostly failed. His legal team is claiming irregularities, even though Attorney General William Barr, who abruptly resigned Monday, has said there is no evidence of widespread fraud that would alter the election results. State election officials, including Republicans, have said the election was fair and valid.
In a decisive blow to Trump's legal efforts, the Supreme Court last week declined to take up two of his cases challenging the election process in key states. Some 120 House Republicans signed on to that failed Texas lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to take up the case seeking to throw out election results in the swing-states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.
One House Republican, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, has vowed to challenge the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, when Congress convenes a joint session to receive the outcome.
At that time, any challenge in Congress would need to be raised by at least one member of the House and Senate. It's unclear if any GOP senator will join in making the case. It appears highly unlikely there is enough congressional support to overturn the election.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that it's as if Biden has to win “again and again and again” before Republicans will accept it.
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., introduced a resolution in Congress last week suggesting no one be declared president-elect until all investigations are completed. He proposed it after constituents confronted him last month demanding he do more to support Trump.
Overhanging their calculations is the Georgia runoff elections Jan. 5 that will decide control of the Senate. Incumbent GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler need Trump's support to defend their seats against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani contributed to this story from Wilmington, Del.